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ties, and they keep the professionals billable and efficient. Professionals are
notoriously poor managers of administrative staff, and will benefit from the
improved attention to administrative staff management, careers and devel-
opment accompanying a centralized management approach.
Developing standard administrative roles across the company is a best
practice. The office manager can do this relatively easily. First, define the
work requirements of each type of administrative staff. Next figure out the
duties needed to support each level of professional staff and the required
hours per week needed to support each professional staff type. For exam-
ple, an associate may only receive filing and travel support thus requiring
only four hours a week. A senior associate may require calendar scheduling
assistance and expense management assistance thus requiring about eight
hours a week of an assistant. A principal requires all of the above plus dic-
tation, presentation support, marketing campaign support, and so on,
thereby consuming at least 20 hours per week. Given this load, a single as-
sistant could handle only one principal, two senior associates, and one asso-
ciate. Alternatively an assistant could handle one principal, one senior
associate, and three associates. The ratio that works for a given will depend
on the specific type of work, number of professional staff and administra-
tive burden for each.
Typically junior professional staff only receive basic administrative ser-
vices (mail delivery, photocopying), while senior staff receive the full suite
of services from the administrative team.

Document Reproduction
Document reproduction, copier centers, and scanning stations are provided
through similar products and service models, and are well suited for central
office management. Some firms charge out these services while others factor
the cost into their services. Regardless, the most critical aspect of running
one of these services is the process for requests, the turnaround time, the
delivery of finished product, and billing for the services. Most firms will de-
termine that the tradeoff of a $10 to $20 per hour resource doing this work is
well worth saving the high cost of a professional doing the same.
522 The Back Office: Efficient Firm Operations

Travel Booking and Management
Travel planning, scheduling and management is another service worthy of
centralizing. Travel agents and administrative staff know the travel market
and keep traveler preferences, and so on. Firm-wide travel policies can be
implemented routinely. Travel agents are much better at locating low cost
airfares, car rentals and accommodations than the typical layman thus lower-
ing overall travel costs. Depending on the size of the firms annual travel
budget, travel agencies may provide this service for free because they will be
paid a commission by the airline, hotel, and rental car companies. In any
case, having someone who can check f lights and make rapid changes for pro-
fessional staff on the f ly (e.g. while they are en-route to the airport) can be
an enormous time-saver and benefit.

Mail Room
The mail room is a basic and familiar centralized resource in most companies.
This function is important to an efficient operation. The scale and scope of
this function will depend on the type of firm and the volume of outbound and
inbound mail received. For most small to mid-size firms, assigning this task as
one part of administrative persons duties will suffice. Many third-party de-
livery services (UPS, Federal Express, DHL, et. al.) will provide high-quality
outsourced services for outbound mail management on-site and can keep the
mail-room effort to a minimum.

Record Keeping and Document Management
Record keeping is critical for most firms, particularly medical practices, law
offices, architects and other document-dependent services. Record keeping
is typically a subset of administrative duties. In many cases, record keeping
can be mandated by the law. A good filing system is critical. Storage and re-
trieval of files should be a core competency of the administrative staff. The
office manager is responsible for ensuring an efficient system. Today many
firms are going paperless which consists of scanning paper documents, par-
ticularly original signed documents, and storing them on a computer system
for easy indexing, search, and retrieval. Today™s office manager should be well
aware of these systems and be able to implement one with outside help if re-
quested. A variety of cost-effective, feature-filled systems such as Microsoft
SharePoint are available and can be economical even for the small office.

Other Services
Depending on the type of professional service organization, other services
may be candidates for centralized support. These services should be looked
Office Management

at individually and using some of the criteria discussed earlier determines
whether any should be centralized in your firm. Other services may include:

• Local technology support
• Appraisal and professional staff career track support
• Paralegal support
• Graphics support
• Telecommunications support
• Tele- and video-conferencing support
• Research services

Whenever deciding to centralize a support function, consider several addi-
tional infrastructure issues. Ensure that whatever you are centralizing can be
done as or more efficiently than what the typical professional could do on
their own. If the professional can complete a job faster without use of the sup-
port function, then they will not use a centralized support function. Therefore
it is incumbent on the office manager to maintain efficiency and fairness when
operating the function. Professionals will not want to:

• Wait an inordinate amount of time before receiving the support.
• Be overcharged for the services (over market rates).
• Have onerous administrative burden to receive the service (complex
forms to fill out, approvals, complicated phone menus).
• Get substandard quality (must be equal or better).

Additionally the administrative staff will need to design a streamlined ef-
ficient process. Make sure you have developed a system to efficiently do the

• Handle service requests quickly and efficiently. Determine how re-
quests will be prioritized”by title, by client, by urgency, and so on.
• Schedule the work. Can reservations be made? How early can requests
be submitted (a week or a month in advance)? Labor must be scheduled
to address peaks and valleys in demand.
• Deliver the finished product in the format needed. How will graphics be
delivered (i.e., Adobe Acrobat or Powerpoint format?).
• Ensure that service is high quality. The office manager must periodi-
cally solicit feedback from professional staff on the quality of the
services provided. Annual surveys, staff feedback, random sampling,
and service level reporting are all tools that can be used to measure
524 The Back Office: Efficient Firm Operations

Managing Facilities
Facilities management is the other major function of office management.
These activities comprise the following:

• Space planning: Managing physical office space including the reception
area and ergonomics of workspaces. This topic is covered in depth in
Chapter 18, Real Estate and Facilities.
• Space maintenance and repairs: The office manager should be the pri-
mary liaison with the office building management and maintenance.
The goal is to ensure that maintenance is routinely provided by the
building for all plant items that are in need of repair (e.g., HVAC, light-
ing, restrooms, electric power, elevators and building security).
• Meeting space and scheduling: The office manager will manage or as-
sign an administrative assistant to manage central scheduling for meet-
ing spaces and the policies governing such. The goal is to promote easy
accessibility and fairness. Additionally the responsible party should en-
sure that the meeting spaces are stocked with all required items such as
dry-erase markers, erasers, easels, conference phones, food service
items, and so on.
• Storage: Items that only need to be accessed in the event of an emer-
gency, less than once a year, or confidential stored records may be
stored off-site in less expensive real estate. The office manager is re-
sponsible to procure the storage space, ensure its security, and coordi-
nate the storage and retrieval of items.
• Furniture: The office manager is responsible for the maintenance and
procurement of office furniture.
• New hires, office moves, and employee departures: The office manager
support human resource policies and procedures regarding the on-
boarding and off-boarding of employees. The office managers responsi-
bilities typically include preparing office space and equipment for new
hires, managing office moves, and ensuring equipment and security ac-
cess is returned when an employee leaves.

Other Duties
In many cases, the office manager is dubbed the firm™s culture keeper and
firm historian. There are other support personnel who might assume some of
these responsibilities, but generally the office manager has the tenure and
visibility into cross-firm activities that make them the ideal choice.
Office Management

Culture is a critical component of any professional service firm. Staff morale
is an important driver of overall effectiveness, and a positive, strong firm
culture is an enormous contributor to staff morale, as well as work ethic,
quality focus and client service attitude. On the other hand, a demoralized
staff can lead to a death spiral in which lower and lower productivity re-
duces client satisfaction which reduces revenue and profits which causes cut-
backs in staff which leads to negative culture and the repetition of a vicious
cycle. Building and maintaining a good culture is important and must be
proactively managed whether it is the responsibility of the office manager or
another individual. In fact, culture is clearly a shared responsibility. Many
activities can lead to a positive culture. There are four types of events com-
monly found in a professional service firm:

1. Reward events: The firm acknowledges individuals for outstanding
2. Social events: The firm promotes activities outside the office so that
team members can bond outside the office.
3. Team-building events: The firm sponsors activities that promote team
4. Information sharing: These events allow specific units in the company
to find out the latest information on the firm.

The most important aspect of this role is for the office manager to
work with the firm™s principals to determine a schedule of events on an an-
nual basis.
These typically include business update meetings, annual meetings, semi-
annual “state of the firm” meetings. Whatever the appropriate slate of meet-
ings, the office manager must develop a schedule of the monthly, quarterly
and annual activities that will help define firm culture and execute them on
a routine basis. Additionally there are quarterly and annual activities that
are important both for the business and for the history/culture. Many com-
panies also have annual retreats or company meetings that typically have the
following agenda:

• Introduction of key people
• Update on business performance
• Recognition of top clients and team performance
• Discussion on one to two year strategic plan
• Breakout sessions for practice areas
526 The Back Office: Efficient Firm Operations

Finally, the a host of less significant, but equally important activities such
as birthday celebrations, office decorations, holiday parties, charitable sup-
port activities, and pro bono work all contribute to the culture of the company.
These activities are typically managed or coordinated by the same person.

The responsibility of maintaining the history of the firm is most often as-
signed to the office manager as well. This role is very important as it defines
and promotes culture and draws employees to the legend of the firm. Criti-
cal components include assigning responsibility and agreeing to proper stor-
age, retrieval, and use of firm history. Additionally, a written background of
the company should be maintained and approved periodically for inclusion in
proposals, recruiting materials and so on. The background should include in-
formation on key events in firm history, founders, and firm values state-
ments. The administrative team should take pictures at company events and
save these in albums, online storage, and frames for the reception area.

Hiring an Office Manager
Not all firms can afford to hire an office manager. However, at some point
during the growth of the business, having a full-time dedicated office man-
ager may actually increase the profitability of the business by reducing the
burden of billable staff of these functions, and by coordinating all the activ-
ities mentioned in this chapter. Additionally, a good office manager can im-
prove overall productivity by streamlining and efficiently running the office.
A typical job description follows:

Office Manager Job Description: The role of an office manager is to organize
and supervise all of the administrative activities that facilitate smooth running
of an office. The office manager may report to the CFO, managing partner, di-
rector of human resources, or Chief Administrative Officer, depending on the
organization. If the organization has multiple offices with enough scale, the of-
fice manager in each location will have similar job functions and report to the
same person. Exhibit 20.1 demonstrates the typical firm-size to office-manager

The office manager is expected to carry out a wide range of administrative
and facility-related tasks. The office manager is ultimately responsible for en-
suring the office runs smoothly:

Typical Responsibilities
• Manage and organize administrative staff (include hiring and firing).
• Manage meeting space and scheduling.
Office Management

1 per 1,000

Office management FTEs




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